The real story of Benghazi

The first attack was on the State Department’s Temporary Mission Facility. We know from having monitored social media and other communications in advance that the demonstration and violence in Cairo were sparked by people upset over a YouTube video that portrayed the Prophet Muhammad negatively. We believe that in Benghazi—over six hundred miles away—extremists heard about the successful assault on our embassy in Egypt and decided to make some trouble of their own, although we still do not know their motivations with certainty. Most likely they were inspired by the prospect of doing in Benghazi what their “brothers” had done in Cairo. Some may have been inspired by a call Ayman al-Zawahiri— the leader of al Qaeda in Pakistan—had made just the day before for Libyans to take revenge for the death of a senior al Qaeda leader of Libyan origin in Pakistan. Still others might have been motivated by the video—although I should note that our analysts never said the video was a factor in the Benghazi attacks. Abu Khattala, a terrorist leader and possibly one of the ring leaders of the attacks, said that he was in fact motivated by the video. Khattala is now in US custody and under indictment for the role he played in the assault.

I believe that, with little or no advance planning, extremists in Benghazi made some phone calls, gathering a group of like-minded individuals to go to the TMF. When they attacked, at about 9:40 p.m. local time, the assault was not well organized—they seemed to be more of a mob who intended to breach the compound and see what damage they could do.

When you assess the information from the video feed from the cameras at the TMF and the Annex, there are few signs of a well-thought-out plan, few signs of command and control, few signs of organization, few signs of coordination, few signs of even the most basic military tactics in the attack on the TMF. Some of the attackers were armed with small arms; many were not armed at all. No heavy weapons were seen on the videotape. Many of the attackers, after entering through the front gate, ran past buildings to the other end of the compound, behaving as if they were thrilled just to have overrun the compound.